Techniques of the Manipulator: Gaslighting

gaslightingToday’s discussion on commonly used tactics and tools of the manipulative personality is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and control where a person is made to doubt their memory and perception of reality. In order to achieve this aim gaslighters present another, untrue version of events or ideas to the person they are trying to gaslight, while continuously denying said person’s claims as false, if not delusional.

Out of all forms of emotional warfare, gaslighting is one of the most intriguing. It is subtle, cunning, and extremely malevolent, but can indicate insecurity on the part of the gaslighter — since they believe they can not counter the other person’s claims, they simply deny that they exist. Gaslighters can seem harmless, if not helpful and well-informed. Through apparent innocence, charm, and/or insistence, they can convince not only the other person, but those who are aware of or observing the situation. Gaslighters are always a generally manipulative personality –whether aware of it or not– and gaslighting is but one tool of many in their belt.

Gaslighting can take place in many ways, and in a variety of situations. A parent telling a child that what they saw they really did not, a husband insisting that the perfume his wife smells on him after work is really her own, a woman telling her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend that he never cared about her.

Gaslighting involves various angles, some popular ones being:

  • Repeated questioning and recreating of events (“Are you sure you were chosen to organize the project? Are you certain he said that?”)
  • Insisting on another version of reality (“I really don’t think that’s what happened when you talked. What really happened is he dumped and you got angry.”)
  • Claiming to be in the know (“You know, your ex-friend told me some things about what you did when you visited her house. She told me all about it.”)
  • Dropping hints and “secrets” (You think your husband goes on business meetings? Your husband goes to the local hotel. All of the neighbors are talking about it, didn’t you know?)

Gaslighters use these techniques in such a way that their assertions seem completely plausible and utterly true — they are pros at what they do. However, an individual’s mind is stronger. If a person knows and believes their own mind and can vividly recall events, they will be a great challenge to the gaslighter. When presented with the covert psychological control of gaslighting, remember that strength of mind wins out over manipulation and psychological bullying every time.

Have you ever experienced gaslighting? How did you respond?

See also:

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28 thoughts on “Techniques of the Manipulator: Gaslighting

  1. Haven’t personally experienced it, but have seen it many many many many many many many times on such blogs, mostly when it comes to interracial issues. My response then is to always present my personal experience, quote facts(NOT bloody surveys) and carry on the with those who are interested in having a factual, open, honest discussion.

  2. foosrock,

    have seen it many many many many many many many times on such blogs, mostly when it comes to interracial issues.”

    You’re absolutely right; I’ve seen gaslighting in discussions about interracial issues too. For some reason it’s very common there.

    “My response then is to always present my personal experience, quote facts”

    Yes, there is not a thing gaslighters can do if you know your ground and stand it. The whole game is contingent on you becoming doubtful.

  3. Yes, my ex-husband use to gaslight me all the time, he was a master at it. He did sales so he prone to be manipulative already. It was particularly hurtful b/c I loved him he was my husband so I wouldn’t have imagined he would do something like that to me but he did, quite often. It’s so subtle many times you won’t even know it’s happening until you know what it is. And yes it’s evil because it malevolent, they do it on purpose. It’s a form of emotional abuse and usually yes if they’re using this form they’re using other forms. I’m glad I figured out what it was and how to recognize it b/c I see it all the time. I don’t engage gaslighters, they won’t stop b/c yes they think smarter than you so it won’t end. Wonderful blog, I’m reblogging this.

  4. Reblogged this on Married Girl in a Weird World and commented:
    Please read, I’ve spoken about gaslighters before in my series on emotional abuse. I want women to know this is real, you’re not imagining being gaslighted it happens alot in all kinds of situations. So know what it looks like so you can combat it.

  5. Hi Eugenia,

    “It was particularly hurtful b/c I loved him he was my husband so I wouldn’t have imagined he would do something like that to me but he did, quite often.”

    That sounds terrible. It’s always worse when the person trying to manipulate you is someone you love and trust.

    “It’s so subtle many times you won’t even know it’s happening until you know what it is.”

    Exactly. It is one of those things you have to understand to recognize. You might get the sense that something isn’t right, but until you know what it is, you may not realize what is going on.

  6. Alee, I passed this on and have talked about this because I don’t just hear about this happening in love relationships, I’ve heard of this happening to women in their careers. I want them to know they aren’t ‘seeing things’, they aren’t troublemakers. Many times when it would happen I would say to myself ‘am I crazy? I know I heard/saw him say/do what I thought’ but he denied it and the denial came so easily. He didn’t scream or get upset, he just kept it denying it very calmly. I’m so glad you wrote this, you described gaslighting perfectly. Excellent piece, again.

  7. This sounds so scary. I think I’d be a gaslighter’s perfect victim because I’m so lost in thought all the time so I don’t remember some things and things often DO end up being different than how I thought.

  8. Eugenia,

    “Alee, I passed this on and have talked about this because I don’t just hear about this happening in love relationships, I’ve heard of this happening to women in their careers.”

    It happens in relationships a lot. I was reading an article about it the other day. Close relationships are ripe for manipulation of all sorts because the person know your strengths and weaknesses, and can Target them where a casual acquaintance can not.

    “Many times when it would happen I would say to myself ‘am I crazy? I know I heard/saw him say/do what I thought’ but he denied it and the denial came so easily. He didn’t scream or get upset, he just kept it denying it very calmly.”

    Yes, that’s a perfect description of how it happens. I’ve seen it many times, and watched with curiosity. I’d say someone being extremely calm is a giveaway. Even normally laidback people will show some sort of surprise when someone is presenting something contrary to the truth or falsely accusing them.

    “I’m so glad you wrote this, you described gaslighting perfectly. Excellent piece, again.”

    You’re the one who reminded me so thank you.

  9. Mira,

    “This sounds so scary.”

    It can be, the first time it occurs and you don’t realize what the person is doing. The person is playing you like a puppet. Most of all, you feel insecure.

    Afterwards, when you have a better idea of what gaslighting is (even if you don’t know the term for it), it can be funny. Because you can just look at the situation with amazement at how people try to manipulate others. Confronting the person about it is also fun, because gaslighters are caught off guard when they are revealed.

    “I think I’d be a gaslighter’s perfect victim because I’m so lost in thought all the time so I don’t remember some things and things often DO end up being different than how I thought.”

    I tend to be absorbed in my own thoughts too but the way that gaslighters approach things — extremely — still doesn’t work. If they tell you something is red that you thought was purple, but you’re not entirely sure that it was purple and it might have been blue or even black, it still wasn’t red. The brain is still paying attention and storing info when we’re not consciously trying to.

  10. Basically, most people are terrible. And by most I mean 99.9%, with there being a margin of error of .1 percent.

  11. Wow, Froggie!. What’s gotten into you?. I totally disagree. Most people aren’t terrible, but the opposite. I don’t believe for one second the adage that, “most people have bad intentions rather than good”.

  12. foosrock,

    “Wow, Froggie!. What’s gotten into you?”

    My thoughts exactly.

    Froggie,

    What happened? Did someone hurt you? 😦 I’ll talk to you in a bit.

  13. Nkosazana, the specific situation she mentioned doesn’t sound like gaslighting but I think the person in question does use gaslighting techniques.

    But please don’t post anything related to him. He’ll find it and stalk this blog forever more. Do you really want him with us? 🙂

  14. All right, He’s really creepy just looking at his face. Though since you posted on Chris site he probably have you in his stalker sell-out folder already.

    Thought you found stuff like that interesting though since half of your posts lately has been about manipulations and stuff 🙂

  15. I haven’t been on Chris’ blog in some time and I’m fairly low-key so he probably passed through once or twice and decided I wasn’t interesting enough.

  16. I am currently attempting to recover from Gaslighting carried out by my husband. I only recently escaped from him and after seeing my own sanity nearly slip away completely I am beginning my healing process. My husband, as it turns out has made a life of Gaslighting women. I am his forth victim but most likely not his last. I discovered that I was married to someone O did not even know at all. After absorbing the facts on his brutal abuse it sickened me to the core to know that he targeted me from the day we met, Gaslighted me slowly for two years. I truly thought I was losing my mind. That’s what his goal was exactly. After a friend of a friend one time mentioned Gaslighting, something clicked in my damaged brain & I did online research, only then did I begin to realize what this man I loved & trusted had been doing to me. For his amusement! At that time is when I began paying very close attention to all interaction we had. I rejected his further attempts to bring me down more & forced my way mentally to a very intense climatic end. If anyone has ever been Gaslighted by a master manipulator and knows the complete loss of sanity you feel you know how hard it is to fight your way back to reality in the abusers phsycological warfare game you know its even harder to recover from the damage caused by all of it.
    I don’t think I will ever recover 100% back to who I was. With the help of a good therapist I’m able to start trusting my own judgement & realize that not everyone is doing to me what he did.
    Gaslighting should be illegal. I barely held onto my sanity but my husband stole everything from me & managed to destroy me in every other way possible. I lost everything I had when I intially met him. I’m lucky I’m not in a mental facility, which was his ultimate goal, But he certainly belongs in one.
    The pain of someone who does this is unimaginable, I loved & trusted him wholeheartedly only to find out he lacked all empathy & never cared about me in the least other than to be the pawn in his disturbing game. He’s out there somewhere lookin for his next victim. When he finds # 5, If I could help her I would.

  17. Oh, I’ve been gaslighted alright!! A guy I refer to as my ex-psycho gaslighted me extensively, enlisting others vulnerable to his manipulation, so that, after a time, it was all of them saying, “Don’t you think you’re being a little oversensitive?”, it was “all in my head”, etc. He was such a master at it, he had them all believing it. Even while abusing THEM too. When I would point it out, they would get angry at me, accusing ME of having skewed perceptions. I’m strong, but when you have so many people saying the same things over and over again, it’s hard to believe in yourself and your own perceptions. I had to stick to the facts and only the facts, repeating them over and over again in my head, but then there was the little insidious voice that was planted there somehow that says, “Perhaps she doth protest too much.” Like I was trying to convince myself of something that perhaps WASN’T true. I can only imagine what it would be like if we’d had children and how awful that would have been! Sometimes he attacked me physically while being careful about not leaving marks or where they were left and making sure that no one saw it or was sure what they saw when they saw it. He would come down the stairs behind me, push me and laugh at “how clumsy” I was. I know I’m clumsy and I also know he pushed me. Repeatedly. He’d make sure he was at an angle behind me so that even if someone saw me fall, they didn’t see him push me and that’s all they could honestly say. There’s A LOT more to it than that. He was sexually abusive as well, but there’s just too much to put here. There’s an article that I read recently where a woman talks about how her ex could tell you the sky was red and she would have believed him and I literally used to say green when trying to describe him to others. It was always so hard to describe his behavior in a way that could be understood by anyone else. It’s been 15 years and I’m still going through the healing process. I’m sorry if that’s depressing for some of you others out there who have been made to be victims, but I had other set backs prior to that in life that left me open to his manipulation. I had always depended on my mind as my best, sometimes only, tool for survival with prior traumas. What he did to me was an enormous blow to my sense of who I was. He hit me in the one place I thought I was safe. My own mind.

  18. Hi Nina,

    That sounds terrible. 😦

    I’m glad you’ve left him and you recognize what happened. At least you came out of the situation that much wiser.

  19. Firstly, identify the gaslighters in your environment. This is actually quite easy: people who speak poorly of others will speak poorly of you as well.

    Do not volunteer information to them, and they will definitely ask, so always keep your cards held close to your chest.

    You must make the gaslighter tired of their effort. For this you must be diligent in your awareness for as long as it takes. You must calmly deflect false insinuations, however veiled or disguised, and preferably overheard. Do not let one single false claim slide.

  20. Yes, my abusive ex was a gaslighter. I didn’t inform myself on gaslighting until after I got out and started trying to make sense of what had happened. Your blog shows just how crazy-making this type of manipulation and abuse really is, although often we can’t quite put our finger on the source of the problem and eventually we just give up challenging back. We end up confused and exhausted as we continually over-think and blaming ourselves. Really interesting blog – thank you. Would like to see more on how people still in a relationship with a gaslighter can overcome this.

  21. strongersoulsurvivor,

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you found the post and blog helpful. Gaslighting is really confusing and I think more should be aware of it.

  22. Discovered that my ex (divorced last year), was a expert gaslighter. His mom was a therapist and learned all the tricks of the trade. I got out after 29 years. It has been extremely difficult to wrap my head around this when I researched “gaslighting”. It is the most worst abuse anyone can go through. The people who do this have mental issues and need medication.
    Sometimes I even wondered if he knew he was doing it…..he really ended up being “crazy”.
    I am safer now that he is gone (I hope)….you never know…as these people are crazy.
    Be careful and run as fast as you can. Also, these people can be the nicest people, but once you get to know them “watch out”!!!! I have been in therapy for two years now. I have come to the conclusion that you must use your “intuition” all the time. If your heart is saying something is wrong….then something is wrong. Never ever doubt yourself, your intuition will save you. Stay strong. Don’t allow them to beat you down, cause they will if you “allow” it. You can live without this horrible manipulation.

  23. I am so sorry for all the people who have been gaslighted and, as a victim/survivor myself of relentless gaslighting, by my (now) ex-partner throughout my pregnancy and in the months after the birth of my child I am only too aware of the absolute devastation it causes. I really related to you in particular Michelle and I wish you well on your journey to getting a sense of yourself back. The trouble with these people is they are so cunning, manipulative and can be charming while, at least in my case, I turned into an emotional basket case as a result of his abuse. It’s really important that people are educated about emotional/psychological abuse and gaslighting. I knew nothing about any of this and it was therefore difficult to pinpoint exactly what the uneasy feeling was in the initial stages of my relationship. By the time I had almost lost my mind and could not cope any longer I was in so deep that it was that much harder to get out. And how do you explain what has happened to people who just don’t ‘get it’? Anyway I did get out but how I wish I had been educated in these matters when I was younger. It would have made so much difference to my life and that of my children. Much love to all of you who have found the courage to post your stories.

  24. Does the gaslighter know and plan the abuse? Or is it just their nature to be this way? I do not doubt that they know that it is wrong , but this has to be after the fact that its been done. I was victimized for almost a decade by my ex-husband. Psychological warfare is the worse form of abuse when the victimizer appears to be so normal. Nobody can relate to the victim. I petitioned for a divorce only after sitting in a bathtub with a 9mm ready to go. Then a short trip to a psych ward only to have the same man that broke my mental stability to this point , somehow send me sent me there only to get me released and drive me home?!?! ? That was almost 2years ago. Will I ever be free?

  25. Stacy,

    “Does the gaslighter know and plan the abuse? Or is it just their nature to be this way?”

    It’s both. They have a tendency to be manipulative, but they plan what and how they will say things toward that end.

    “Will I ever be free?”

    Only you can make that decision.

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